"This is really important to be here," Lewan said. "I'm here to give back and help out my teammate."
6/2/2015 – Michigan 1, Florida 0 – 60-7, Championship Series tied 1-1 (best of 3)
— Matt Lisle (@CoachLisle) June 3, 2015
I will get to what the ump called this later; it is up top for the visual: One of the two greatest Michigan softball teams in the history of a very good program is an inch away from something, and Florida, themselves one of the best teams ever assembled, huge, athletic, merciless, focused, defensive, is literally blocking Michigan's path.
This was a triumph. Everyone knew after Florida in the first game used Aleshia Ocasio, and relieved her with Delanie Gourley, that Player of the Year Lauren Haeger would get the melon—which looks more like an apple in her hands—in Game 2. Haeger throws as hard as anyone and has a kind of curve-change that complements it, but her primary weapon is that fastball has so much late life it's impossible to square, and even solidly hit balls die from that spin. It doesn't help that Florida's mechanical infielders are the best in the game at turning those goofy grounders into outs.
I'm making a note here: Huge Success. Sierra Lawrence welcomed Haeger by slapping a leadoff single through a left side playing tight on an 0-2 count, then beat out Florida's double-play attempt on Romero's grounder. Michigan then scored her on a single by Susalla. The rest of the night would be an all-out assault on that run. Sierra's nickname is "The Silent Assassin" because she steals third; last night her speed squeezed out a run when it seemed neither pitcher was going to give up any.
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction. Haylie Wagner staged her own assault. In the course of this season, which early on suffered the loss of fellow senior Sara Driesenga, the younger Megan Betsa has been Ace A and Wagner Ace B. Both have shone most brilliantly in relief of one another. Betsa pitched Game 1 of this series and as Ace mentioned yesterday, she was tentative. All day the Florida hitters (who drew over 100 hit-by-pitches this season) crowded the plate and Betsa threw away from them.
As she had in relief in Game 1, Wagner went right after them. Every once in awhile, usually whenever Haeger got to bat again, Florida would put a runner in scoring position and Haylie would pitch out of the jam.
These points of data make a beautiful line. The last such came in the 6th, when Florida got on with a bunt single with 1 out and Haeger coming up to bat. After two fouls (one to deep left, the other behind the catcher) fell just out of reach, Haeger connected and off the bat there was a sickening moment when you thought this was going to bloop over the infield. Instead it floated harmlessly into Romero's glove.
One more inning and two strikeouts later, Wagner had bought the Wolverines another 7 innings by adding 7 shutout frames to a current total of 0.00 runs in 20 innings in these WCWS.
That stat is downright insane considering over half of those innings have come against this lineup—Florida averaged 6 runs per game this year in the ur-pitcher conference, and was never shut out until Wagner did so last night. The rest of those innings were against the just-as-scary LSU, and UCLA. To put this in perspective, the football equivalent would be a defense going up against Oregon, Baylor, Ohio State, then Ohio State again, and giving up just a handful of missed field goals. If there's a better offense the lefty hasn't mowed down the last two weeks, it's only because it's on her side.
[Highlights from MGoBlue's janky video.]
We do what we must because we can. It was the third time these two teams played a dramatic 1-run game this year, and the first bears mention. It was Michigan's first game, Florida's second. Ocasio struck out 10 in that game, but Wagner kept #1 Florida to one run—off the bat of Lauren Haeger of course.
In the top half of the final inning, down to their last strike, Michigan tied it on a Christner double into right-centerfield gap. Wagner pinch-hit and, eerily similar to game 1 of this series, hit a deep fly ball that missed the foul pole by inches before getting out. In the bottom, Wagner walked the first two batters, and Florida bunted them over. Florida brought in a pinch-hitter who knocked what appeared to be a game-winning 3-run homer, except the Gators didn't properly inform the umpires she was being reinserted (they'd taken her out for a defensive replacement in the 6th). The home run was removed on the technicality. Then Wagner threw a wild pitch that ended both the game and the controversy.
At the time the Florida loss was the reason Michigan couldn't claim #1 even after romping through the rest of that month. A softball season at Michigan is kind of like a Wichita State basketball or Boise State football one: they play the first six weeks on the road in tournaments the southern teams schedule earlier and earlier (this game was on February 7th) because they can. Michigan tries to cram as many big wins as possible into that because the Big Ten season is mostly a "don't screw this up" marathon before the postseason.
For the good of all of us (except the ones who are dead). Was everybody kind of annoyed that Florida's players got a cut-video on ESPN doing a Gator chompy version of our "It's great… to be…" cheer? On one hand and 4/5 of the remaining fingers, the cheer doesn't have anything particularly applicable to Michigan except an arrogant tone, and the meter's just a liiiiitle not quite right for the lyrics, and we apparently stole it from Auburn in the 1980s, and certainly lately even when it's correct it's really not:
As long as we keep screaming we don't have to talk about how we nearly botched that two-minute drill.
On the last finger, they played that cheer with zero acknowledgement that Florida was appropriating the other team's thing. I guess anyone who would get the joke got it, and anyone who wouldn't probably thinks the Florida Gators have an arrogant cheer they're a syllable too short to be using.
[UPDATE: A guy in the comments claims Florida has been doing it since the 1960s. I'm not sure I'd trust half of what any Gator says, but the hand in favor of this cheer is down to a pinky nub].
I'm not even angry. On the blown call, I think John U. Bacon nailed the problem:
Another great game, Michigan v. Florida. But ump blew obstruction call at third. Why mic them? Knowing their mic'ed, they'd never admit it.
— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) June 3, 2015
Other than some Florida/SEC partisans who'd believe in whatever cake serves their interests, the public was in pretty strong agreement that obstruction call, the difference between a runner on 3rd with Christner coming to bat and going into the 6th up 1-0 with Haeger due up, was blown.
I was a softball IM umpire, which is about as relevant to the Championship Series as a little league ump's experience would be to MLB, but two things I'm pretty certain are universal across the sport are 1) how obstruction is called, and 2) you never tell a fellow umpire they blew the call unless you're certain. If you're told you blew something you respect that—this is your chance to not look like a fool or become part of the game.
The umps were mic'ed so we got to hear the field umpire come in and advise the plate ump she had obstruction, and the plate umpire respond harshly "I didn't have obstruction." I bet you a delicious chocolate cake if the country isn't listening in on the huddle that ump takes the get out of jail free card. Instead he sticks with his call so he's not the guy getting corrected on ESPN. Fortunately it didn't affect the outcome.
Other than that, and kind of a muddy outside corner both teams have been taking advantage of, the umpiring has been excellent so I'm willing to give him a mulligan on this.
Anyway this cake is great; it's so delicious and moist. Florida didn't take a loss until 26 games after the close brush with Michigan; in that loss then-#2 LSU put up 9 runs in the 1st inning and the Gators came back to tie it 10-10 before losing 14-10.
As you've seen the last two evenings, Michigan and Florida are pretty evenly matched, which is incredible if you've spent the last several years hearing how Florida is the kind of softball team a scientific testing facility would assemble if given unlimited time and resources to manipulate human bodies for maximum softball output. The prevailing wisdom had them winning the national championship this year even before they did last year.
Michigan may be frustrating to them, but it's not plucky upset frustration so much as why do these teams both have to exist the same season!? As a fan you're terrified of everything but to the softball world Michigan is nearly as much a juggernaut, the Brady to their Manning, the Ali to their Frazier, the Nadal the world was crying for since the moment Federer ascended to the top of it. The season until now was hardly preliminary, but exactly nobody is surprised it will end in a game between the Gators and Wolverines.
And end it will. By the time the Earth has spun half-way around today Wagner's streak and Haeger being allowed to play against college students, and the careers of Wagner and Lauren Sweet (we'll wait and see if Driesenga gets a medshirt), and Romero's record-obliterating season will be something to remember instead of live. The expectation was for this year to come down to these colossi, and all promises were kept.
|What:||Michigan vs. Florida Game 3 for the National Championship|
|When:||Tonight, 8 ET|
|Where to watch:||ESPN|
THANK YOU FOR PARTICIPATING
ENRICHMENT CENTER ACTIVITY!!
Note: family stuff has me in a car most of today and may prevent me from doing a lot until Thursday.
2/22/2015 – Michigan 64, Ohio State 57 – 14-13, 7-8 Big Ten
Basketball from the perspective of an Andre Drummond or a Shaq is a simple thing. You come into possession of the ball. You hold it between two fingers, bellow something designed to induce a flight or fight response, survey the various and sundry "flight" responses, and dunk explosively on anyone who chose… poorly. If someone tries to do the same when you are on defense, you fling him into the nearest body of water.
Later, you have a snack.
Basketball from the perspective of Spike Albrecht is a multi-dimensional differential equation in which almost all answers are emphatically wrong ones. To avoid being postmarked to Lake Michigan, Albrecht has to swoop through the lane several times to induce dizziness in the opposition and then find the one local minima that will result in a shot instead of an Ent-shaped man flexing.
He does this regularly.
When he's really dialed in the result has a Globetrotter feel. A few games ago there was a brief referee discussion after Albrecht was fouled and the refs tried to determine whether it was on the floor or not. The thing is: they were probably right it was a pass. It looked like a pass. It felt like a pass.
It felt like a pass that was off by a little bit so instead of just hitting the backboard it grazed the rim. It felt like this for two diametrically opposed reasons. One, whatever it was that Albrecht was doing did not in any was resemble a shot, at least as far as shooting has been understood since World War II. Two, when Albrecht flings balls at the basket like that they're usually a lot closer to going in.
I found out Kenpom's added an "MVP" feature in their box scores because Albrecht locked it down against Ohio State. And, well, yeah: Albrecht out-dueled future top five pick D'Angelo Russell:
- Albrecht: 16 points on 12 shot equivalents, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 0 TO
- Russell: 16 points on 17 shot equivalents, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 5 TO
Choosing your favorite Spiketrotters play from this game is difficult: the swooping layup past Amir Williams? The assist he wrapped around after faking the swooping layup so convincingly he momentarily fooled himself? The pinpoint, Brady-worthy fade pass to Bielfeldt off the pick and roll? Slipping in for one of his trademarked Very Sneaky Steals to seal the game?
I dunno man, I like 'em both, and I also like both the others. Watching that kind of performance from Albrecht is like a virtuoso slot receiver performance or a hat trick from one of the 5'8" puck wizards Michigan used to collect like pogs back in the day. It's disproportionately fun.
Movies pack their sportsbits with various people overcoming handicaps for a reason. People watch sports instead of those movies for a reason: it's so much better when a script is nowhere near the proceedings. Not that you could script items like we saw yesterday.
P: "So the little guy, he does what?"
W: "He swoops by a seven-foot dude and flings it up underhand from the baseline! And he makes it! A lot!"
P: "The littlest guy on the court. Shooting one-handed grandma free throws on the run against guys a foot taller than him."
P: "I can't decide whether to fire you or shoot you."
We're all pretty eh on this season, willing to give a guy with eight NCAA tourney wins in two seasons a mulligan when his best two players end up on the shelf after a massive pile of unexpected NBA attrition, but not particularly eager to watch Michigan lose a bunch of games. There's no storming the barricades like football, just a desire to fast-forward to next year.
Albrecht paused that thinking a few minutes in yesterday, giving us something to grab on to now, instead of next year. That thing is man versus space bear, with man improbably winning.
This was a game to maximize Spike's utility. He drew Shannon Scott on defense, and Scott barely tried to do anything about the fact he was a half foot taller than his guy. Scott had just four FGAs inside the arc, only one of which he hit. He missed a couple threes and had three assists against two turnovers.
Michigan's had some rough defensive outings of late, but this was a good one. Other than the spate of offensive rebounds early in the second half OSU didn't take advantage of Michigan's size deficiencies.
Hey! Chatman! The moment when everything was truly coming up Milhouse was Kam Chatman tip-toeing the sideline to chase down a loose ball and then finishing a transition layup in traffic, spurring an OSU timeout. Before that he'd finished a truly difficult bucket, spinning to the basket against solid defense and looking for a moment like the top 50 prospect he was in high school. It's more baby step than steps. I'll take it all the same.
Ditto Irvin. Aided by the still-baffling Amir Williams's post-defense-type-substance, Irvin was also a major step up from where he's been lately. He was generating shots for people other than himself—four assists—and driving. He still has a bad habit of always going up with his right hand on any layup, though.
Rough day for the freshmen guards. Lost in the actual offensive efficiency was MAAR and Dawkins combining for just seven points on 12 shots with 4 TOs. MAAR did have four assists.
Even in this year. Michigan's now 7-8 in the league with games against Northwestern and Rutgers on the docket. 9-9 is a thing that could happen even with this roster. That's quite a bottom compared to all the other bottoms Michigan basketball has experienced. Flip a couple of those OT results and they'd have faint tourney hopes, even.
Apologies. This posted as a draft yesterday and I didn't notice until late.
2/14/2015 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 6 – 16-9-0, 8-3 Big Ten
2/15/2015 – Michigan 0, Minnesota 2 – 16-10-0, 8-4 Big Ten
There can be no contrast of hockey styles greater than going from playing Michigan State on ice that may as well be gravel to Minnesota's immaculate Olympic sheet. On the Olympic sheet you will play the biggest, fastest, and often finest players the "State of Hockey" has to offer. Also the occasional Austrian. (This year Minnesota State, the school you thought was fictional, has claim.)
Sometimes this goes okay. Sometimes it really does not.
Michigan got bombed out of the building on Friday as Minnesota repaid the favor Michigan did them when they met in Yost; they lost narrowly the next night as Minnesota repaid the favor from the first matchup. It wasn't fun, except it kind of still was even when Michigan was getting their ass handed to it.
I don't know man, it's weird. Multiple times a period teams would make little clever passes to break out of the zone and rush the puck in. Dump and chase, these days the default method of doing anything, was just about unheard of. The Olympic ice has weird effects on visitors, who tend to spread out on both ends. On offense this leaves you taking speculative shots from the outside that don't have a lot of chance to go in; on defense your slot is exposed*.
*(That's not what she said.)
So Minnesota opened the scoring by wiring a puck from the slot to the top corner on a power play and things continued from there. Hockey's weird and I don't think this means Michigan's a thousand times worse than the Gophers any more than the previous series meant the inverse. But sometimes you get Minnesota and you're just like… dude.
You have Hudson Fasching, a guy who I've heard about since he was 15, and he is a boring third-liner. The tic-tac-toe of the puck is mesmerizing, and if they get zeroed in on your breakout, as they did in the second period Friday, you are in deep without a paddle. Friday's game went from a relatively even 3-0 game to a 4-0 blowout over the first ten minutes of the second, if that makes any sense.
The kind of things Michigan does to a lot of star-struck opponents (or did until the last few years) Minnesota does from time to time. Sometimes when they're on, etc. Michigan competed, but they currently do not have the defense to deal with these things. Minnesota erased Zach Hyman with NHL uber-prospect Brady Skjei; Michigan has no equivalent defender. Zach Werenski is real good… and 17. Check back with me when Werenski is a senior to see if he's as good as Skjei, a junior, is now.
So it was over the weekend, as two teams playing with buckets of space made it 120 minutes of 4-on-4. 120 minutes of 4-on-4 is terrific to watch even if you aren't, like, scoring any goals. It restores a faith you didn't know you needed restoring in the wisdom of flinging pucks at a guy in a mask.
Margin for error is gone after losing three of four with weak competition ahead. Michigan is 17th after the sweep, currently on the wrong side of the bubble. They have eight regular season games left against the dregs of the league and Penn State; they have to win a lot of games if they're going to feel good about their at-large chances.
Michigan's schedule strength is languishing at 34th nationally despite nonconference matchups against Lowell, BU, BC, Michigan Tech, and New Hampshire. The league is really dragging them down, and they got unlucky to draw a really bad version of RPI (the university).
Anyway: I figured that Michigan had three or four games to give if they wanted to be secure going into the Big Ten tournament. They've just about given all of them. It is go time the next two weekends against Ohio State (who may not be as bad as they seemed the first time around, as they were dealing with a Michigan basketball level of injuries) and dire Wisconsin. Sweeps in both are imperative.
Olympic ice is terrific. I don't see any reason not to adopt it. More ice to cover means long periods like 4-on-4 hockey where the team with the puck can maintain possession and threaten for a 30 or 40 second period, as both Minnesota and Michigan did. I prefer anything that brings the skill of the rush back to prominence, especially a week after MSU's "line four guys up on the blueline and pray" strategy.
If I was the NHL commissioner I'd decree any new building has to have Olympic ice. I'm a fan of weird variations in playing situations, something that gives baseball some of its allure. The time to make that change was probably 20 years ago before the various stadiums went up, but I'd make that change anyway.
Goaltending: insufficient. Nagelvoort got chased on Friday as he let in one very soft goal (the second trickled through him and he was unaware of that fact, leaving a ton of time for a forward to swat at the puck twice) and did not make many of an admittedly very difficult sequence of saves on water-bottle jobs from the Gophers. Still, I don't have much confidence in either guy at this point… and that's coming from a person who was claiming the problem largely rested with the defense corps for the first half of the season.
Which it certainly does, in part. Michigan's slot has been… not well defended dammit that's still a PHRASING. Is there any way to talk about the section of the hockey rink between the circles that now that I'm thinking in this manner really really resemble breasts ARGH I blame twitter for everything.
Nieves is modern day Milan Gajic. Looks like he should be a scorer, isn't a scorer, reinforces this by putting his first two in since November in a situation in which no one will remember because they don't matter.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Minnesota crew. The color guy was a little willing to condone disproportionate reprisals for a bit of Michigan frustration on Friday and the PBP guy was inclined to exclaim "no penalty!" in situations where there wasn't even much complaining from the crowd. Other than that, they were excellent—much better than the anodyne BTN duo, still featuring Fred Pletsch for reasons that escape me.
The PBP guy, who turns out to be named Doug MacLeod, brought up Ufer apropos of nothing other than respect for the fraternity of announcer bros, and that felt appropriate. He has that certain gravitas a Bud Lynch or Carl Grapentine does.
One thing not so much though. The color guy kept knocking Compher for not pulling the trigger on a couple of 2-on-1 opportunities he got. This felt wrong because Compher's last second pass after a shot fake trickled through the crease and Shuart really should have gotten a stick on it. If he did that was a slam dunk into an open net. The other one didn't come off as his attempted saucer pass was flicked into the air by a defenseman's stick, but a super great opportunity for a tap-in in two tries is worth more than any two two-on-one shots are.
1/27/2015 – Michigan 58, Nebraska 44 – 13-8, 6-3 Big Ten
I'm not sure whether MAAR is the gum wrapper or the battery, whether Dawkins is the shoe or the lamp, whether Bielfeldt is the broom or the package of pantyhose. I do know that Zak Irvin is pulling the contraption taut. Spike Albrecht is lighting the package on fire. John Beilein is glancing up from his maniac's blueprint, waiting for the moment when Tim Miles's friendly head is dead in the crosshairs.
"Subs away," he says.
Miles: 'Their system ... We made a little run against their 2-3, and we never saw it again.'
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) January 28, 2015
A hit, a palpable hit. Michigan goes to 6-3 in the Big Ten playing a lot of weird guys.
All the weird guys, really. I guess DJ Wilson would be slightly weird at this point, but not nearly so weird as Dan Dakich criticizing his son for not stopping the ball in transition. The weirdness is out there, man. It is starting and not coming off the floor.
Michigan got 37 minutes from a guy in Pennsylvania who Penn State didn't bother to offer and this was fine. Good, even. MAAR/Rahk put up nine points on eight shots, had a few rebounds and a steal, and played good defense. Fellow weird guy Aubrey Dawkins was headed to Dayton before Michigan stepped in; he put up 13 on seven shots, had a killer block, and generally looked like the top 50 recruit Michigan was supposed to have in this class.
And Bielfeldt. I must confess that whenever he ends up on the floor I wonder what on Earth Michigan could have seen in a player who can only be a 6'7" center. I guess they think he can beat up Walter Pitchford. Which he can, somehow.
My theory is that Beilein was working with the medical center on a top-secret growth project that fell through. A 6'10" Max Bielfeldt is really something.
In any case, we're here now, having a season. It's not a good season. But it is a season that's worth watching.
It's quite a trick to have a massively disappointing year—one that was headed that way even before the injury avalanche—and still give off the aura of gritty grit and development that Michigan is. They're not good. They're not bad, though, when they obviously should be.
This collection of guys gets a little less weird every time Dawkins has a line-drive three nestle into the net and hang there for a beat longer than you'd expect, every time MAAR gets to the rim and finishes tough. With LeVert on the shelf, this is next year's team assembling itself one game at a time. Add Duncan Robinson and DJ Wilson and, like, a toe for Walton and you could have something there.
Either way, this assemblage of dudes is flipping through configurations every time the opponent gets a handle on them. They morph into the most effective possible shape given their personal shortcomings and prevent a meh year from becoming a nightmare one. Let's see where it goes.
I'm thinking it goes to the NIT, but I'm okay with that. I'll take a few more games of Beilein pulling out every last banana peel he has for the opposition.
How about those late pickups? Michigan fans were confused when Beilein pulled in both Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman very late in the last recruiting cycle. One seemed necessary given the roster; two was a flier on a random guy. Those pickups are now paying off.
The stats are still lagging, with both guys at the bottom of the list in terms of usage and with MAAR's early struggles holding his shooting numbers down; their play has improved greatly. Dawkins is the most efficient shooter Michigan has right now, at 57/42, albeit with a very small sample size. Both turn it over too much and aren't getting the assists Michigan will need them to acquire down the road, but at the very least both guys look like solid four-year college players.
That "four year" bit seems important these days. Michigan could use a dose of roster continuity in here.
This was a fortunate matchup. Nebraska's okay; Michigan matches up against them well this year. Michigan has a huge weakness on the defensive boards that the Cornhuskers generally do not even attempt to exploit. Pitchford's OREB rate is 3.7. The one guy who does get an appreciable number of OREBs, David Rivers, was out.
Meanwhile Michigan's zones give up a lot of corner threes against a team with no three point shooting. Petteway is at 34%; tiny pest Benny Parker is at 38% but is loathe to pull the trigger with just 29 attempts on the year. (Parker proved this by passing up multiple open looks in the second half.) The other guys pulling the trigger range from bad to abject.
Once Petteway turned out to be in bad Kobe mode it was just about whether Michigan could pull together enough offense to make it comfortable. They eventually could.
Bid? It's still highly unlikely. We could have been talking about it if they pulled out that Wisconsin game, which would not only have been a non-loss but also a big win. Without it there's not a whole lot of traction to be had in the remainder of the schedule. The Big Ten is having an off year and Rutgers is occupying two slots in the schedule that could have been any other Big Ten team.
Even if Michigan goes 12-6 in conference you're looking at a resume that is like so:
- 19-11 record pending Big Ten tourney
- Best nonconference win over Syracuse, which is likely to be a bubble team
- Maybe three wins over tourney teams in conference (6-3 finish likely assumes wins against NW and Rutgers and @ Illinois)
- Horrendous losses to NJIT and EMU
That's a bubble team, and one that could very easily get passed over. Michigan's RPI is currently 64th, they're 0-5 against top 50 teams, etc. It's a resume that could go either way depending on how Michigan's RPI shapes up.
But what if? Michigan's hit the meat of their schedule with six of their next seven games against Kenpom top 50 teams (and the lone exception is no cakewalk: @ Illinois). Go 4-3 in that stretch and then we might start tracking Bracket Matrix and the like.
Chatman. Oof. Not to pile on but man that guy is just completely out of it. He's not even close on his shots, he's repeatedly losing people on defense, he's turning the ball over a ton… you have to keep rolling him out there some since he's a guy who could turn it around and become a nice player down the road, but the regression from a place that wasn't that far off the ground to begin with is dismaying.
Irvin. With Derrick Walton out someone… needed to pick up the rebounding? Yes, yes, apparently. That was Irvin, who notched a double double. Hopefully this can get him more into games where he's not getting a ton of shots, or not hitting many of them.
Back in the day I had a brief period as an Edmonton Oilers fan. (Long story short: never had much of a Red Wings connection since I grew up in pre-Avs Colorado and Edmonton had Mike Comrie.) This was at the point where they had one of the most bizarrely popular players in the league, Georges Laraque.
The French-Canadian was more province than man, kept on the team to grind on the fourth line and facepunch people. He had one more skill than that, though. If provided the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, he could keep it there indefinitely.
This had almost no utility. Laraque couldn't do much of anything once he had established possession. He was too slow to threaten to take the puck off the boards himself and not skilled enough to pick out his teammates. Even so it was a thing to see: Laraque fending off increasingly enormous piles of opposition players as the arena got more and more fevered about something that would never, ever lead to a goal. In this it was like his fighting, there to entertain in a way totally orthogonal to the stated goal of hockey.
When Zach Hyman started doing this at the outset of last season, it had a Laraquian feel to it. He was stuck on three points a third of the way through the year and no amount of cheerleading from this space made a difference. At that point Hyman was a guy who had a great season as an overager in junior but had done nothing to suggest he was going to replicate that through 60% of his career at Michigan.
And then he started walking into the slot.
Michigan's weekend was a rote walkover introduced by a penalty-induced hangover. I've been on both sides of games like Friday where the ice tilts towards the losing team and no lead seems safe, and by the time Michigan scored to pull within 1 late in the second period that game felt like a Michigan win.
The way it transpired is quickly becoming familiar. Hyman walked off the wall again, flicking the puck to the far side of a goalie worried about a wrap-around attempt. Then Michigan marauded through the slot for the go-ahead goal and the double-tap to make sure Wisconsin's zombie upset bid was well and truly dead. They'd solved prominent goaltending issues by removing them from the relevant section of the game. An empty-netter felt appropriate as an extra-point exclamation mark.
Saturday's game was over two minutes in when Michigan had scored twice and chased Joel Rumpel to the bench in world-record time. By the time Michigan scored to go up 5-0 early in the second period they were barely celebrating. After two periods shots were 37-9.
Even Wisconsin's frustrated after-the-play Standard Hockey Goonery felt obligatory. It takes a remarkable mental state to shove someone without meaning anything by it, but by the third period Wisconsin was doing it solely by reflex, thinking about what they would watch on Netflix after the game.
Eliminate Tony Calderone's five minute major and this weekend wasn't a hockey series. It was a reason that Michigan should be forced to wear body cams when on duty.
Hyman's surged into serious Hobey Baker contention in a way I don't think I've ever seen a Michigan player do so. Previous dominant Hobey types have mostly been the little puck wizards that felt like Michigan's birthright for most of the 90s and aughts. Brendan Morrison was an NHL-sized version of those guys, Kevin Porter a gentleman who scored buckets of goals without being dominant in any particular facet of the game.
All of these guys reached the point where you look for them to hit the ice because they are generating chances every shift. Most of them did so by having the puck on a string. A guy like Hyman, who is so physically dominant he creates most of his chances off the cycle, is a new thing.
He's a good metaphor for the team as a whole: eventually overwhelming. Michigan shoves line after line at you—they have eight guys on or within a couple points of a PPG, and that doesn't count NHL Draft second-rounders Boo Nieves and JT Compher. Every time they go for a line change someone you don't want to see is coming over the boards.
They do have to get their act together on defense. The goalies' flagging save percentages are not entirely their regression. Michigan's giving up grade A scoring chances with alarming regularity. Not so much this weekend, but Wisconsin is truly, bogglingly bad.
Even so at this point you have to wonder if they can outscore anyone. The 80s called, offering their hockey again. All aboard the firewagon.
Michigan's sweep did count for something, as they moved up about four tenths of a point despite Lowell and Minnesota (teams that give them quality win points) having bad weekends. Wisconsin has a solid SOS (4th in RPI terms) and that helps them remain somewhat relevant. Then the road multiplier kicks in.
That four tenths of a point corresponded to a whopping five-spot move in RPI/PWR because the teams immediately in front of Michigan had horrible weekends, with three getting swept and a fourth taking just one point.
Michigan is now solidly in the tournament but vulnerable to backsliding. They're barely a point above the 16 slot which is guaranteed doom.
Suggestion: keep winning. Michigan has 12 games left in the regular season and probably has to go 8-4, maybe 9-3 to feel secure entering the Big Ten Tournament. Given the way they've been playing and the way the rest of the Big Ten has, that's not too tall an order.
Pile 'em in. Michigan has surged to an enormous lead in scoring offense, a full six tenths of a goal past #2 Robert Morris. Last year's leading offense, BC, was at 4.1 GPG; Michigan is at 4.4. BC got their piles of goals thanks to 80-point Hobey winner Johnny Gadreau.
PPGs. Those eight(!) guys at or a couple points away from a PPG: Hyman, Larkin, Copp, and Motte are past that pace. Kile and Werenski are one and two points short, respectively. And after a five-point weekend featuring a Friday hat trick, Justin Selman is at 5-6-11 in just 11 games.
This goal was rightfully disallowed. Kile got a little bumped here but yeah:
I wasn't expecting that to stand after one replay.
Goalie issues. The BTN announcers made a great deal about Michigan's goalie issues this year, which I thought was pretty simplistic given the sheer number of grade-A chances they'd faced but then both goalies gave up horrendous goals on Friday and now that I'm poking at the numbers… yeah. Nagelvoort is 50th of 80 qualifying goalies on CollegeHockeyStats and Racine is 74th.
These things can turn around quickly—Racine was horrible the first half of his freshman year and put up a .920 the rest of the way—because you need a pile of shots before save percentage becomes statistically meaningful. Michigan's going to have to hope someone steps forward as we approach the stretch run. It's Nagelvoort's turn for a while, it seems.
Selman? Selman's been one of my argh-play-him-more favorites. Sometimes these work out (Hyman), sometimes not so much (Lindsay Sparks), but a five point weekend on the wing of Selman and Larkin probably buys him a few more weekends as the third wheel there. Selman brings a net-driving presence on a line that generates a lot of chaos and rebounds, and he seems like a good fit there.
Already prepping to pump Selman as next year's upperclass breakout forward, which has been an annual tradition (Rohlfs, Scooter) until recently.
Larkin. Hyman is carrying that line and has been all season but Larkin is obviously contributing, and he's contributing on a higher level since the GLI break, where he was one of the best forwards on the WJC team. Larkin reminds me a bit of Max Pacioretty, who wasn't particularly noticeable during the first half of his only year at Michigan but absolutely blew up in the second half. Larkin's adding some flair to his game now that he's comfortable with college and his line.
Sinelli on defense? Michigan listed Andrew Sinelli as a defender this weekend, leading to weird things like a box score featuring "XD" as a position for Nolan De Jong. Michigan rotated through its centers for extra shifts on the fourth line—when those guys are Compher, Copp, and Larkin that's not a bad idea—and played with what they were going to do on the back end.
I liked Sinelli as a defender last year. I actually thought he was a top four guy for them. He's not great shakes as a forward with the puck but for a defenseman he's very capable in that department, and while he's small he was generally in the right spot. That would be a large improvement for Michigan's defensive corps.
I'd keep an eye on that going forward, especially since Michigan is going to plug Lynch back into that fourth line center spot when he gets back. Given the Michigan offense a solid senior like Sinelli might be preferable to a guy who has more upside but offers up more WTF moments.
1/20/2014 – Michigan 54, Rutgers 50 – 12-7, 5-2 Big Ten
BENCH MOB NO MORE [Bryan Fuller]
At one point last night Michigan's lineup consisted of two walkons, two freshmen who had been snatched off the who-dat heap right before the late signing period, and redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. At another point it was Walton, three freshmen, and 6'7" center Max Bielfeldt. To paraphrase the increasingly rat-faced gentleman to the west, Michigan was playing a lot of weird guys. This is how weird: they yoinked a redshirt off a walk-on. It's not going to plan, you guys.
And they won! They won because Rutgers is a basketball team in the same way North Korea is a tourist destination, but Sean Lonergan played 13 more minutes than Caris LeVert did. Michigan is a basketball team in the same way London after the black plague was a city. I'll take it.
In fact Michigan is a zombie in the same way a zombie is a zombie: lurching forward despite taking a staggering amount of damage. They've got their grobbly little teeth into five Big Ten teams already largely because Beilein has deep experience taking the undersized and faintly ridiculous farther than seems possible. I bet a small part of him thinks it's kind of fun he's throwing out a zillion different zones and deploying a rotation that occasionally grabs chemistry students out of Orgo lab. A part much smaller than the eyerolling demon that controls most of his precincts, but an extant one nonetheless.
It is this tiny part of our rage-filled selves we should seek to cultivate.
Against teams that don't yield 25 uncontested threes against a team that barely hints at activity in the paint, the projection is rougher. Michigan's projected to win four of their remaining 11 games on Kenpom and it's hard to dispute that as pessimistic, what with Kenpom unaware that Caris has gone away.
It's going to be ugly. And… I guess, fine, let's just get to it and move on. Michigan saw Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas depart for the NBA. Jon Horford followed his family's insane NBA dream to 18 minutes a game on a 10-8 SEC Team. (Note to Michigan basketball: if Tito Horford shows up with a babe in swaddling clothes, put it in the river and run.) Caris is kaput and there's obviously something bothering Walton when he's not rebounding his ass off. Irvin is not quite in a Hardaway-esque sophomore funk (still 35% from three) but he's rarely able to generate anything that isn't provided.
You can rip that pile of talent away from a Duke or a Kentucky and they will plug it back in because the next wave of seven-footers from the Nike tanks is just around the corner. Michigan, not so much.
It's a minor miracle that they've done what they have over the last few years without recruiting one-and-done types. Michigan effective experience over the last five years, out of about 350: 335, 207, 342, 330, 326. The only team in that bunch to not win an NCAA game was the 207 squad, which went out early against Ohio. They went to a national title game and nearly another final four in there. And the NBA swooped in on guys who nobody had heard of before they put on the block M.
At some point the wrong combination of guys was going to pop out and Michigan would be pretty bleah. That's this.
Thanks to the two horrendous nonconference losses Michigan would probably have to get to 11, maybe 12 conference wins to get a bid. I guess that's not impossible, but neither is it likely. Against the easiest part of their Big Ten schedule Michigan has five wins that were one-basket games sometime in the last five minutes and two decisive losses.
The only reason anyone is holding out a faint modicum of hope is that 1-6 team that wandered into Breslin and sprayed blood all over the place. If that happens, great. I'm resigned to the NIT and looking for blips of improvement whenever Dawkins skies over everyone or Doyle, like, plays. I was throwing things earlier this year when this improbable scaffold collapsed on itself; now I'm trying to have fun watching it go back up.
Oy. I guess it evened out a little by the end but man, the three point shooting was something else. Rutgers somehow conspired to give Michigan open look after open look and Michigan could not convert. Walton hit a couple key late ones to get Michigan to 8 of 26, 31%.
That's much less of a problem than going 39% from within the arc, but if that happens against non-Rutgers teams it's curtains. Most of them aren't going to give up anywhere near as many open looks, though.
Rutgers. Just fire Eddie Jordan now. To be that disorganized with two seniors and two juniors in your starting lineup is a spectacular condemnation of coaching ability even in year two.
Two pointers. There aren't any. Doyle is getting an acceptable number up at a good rate (66%), and that is it. Irvin is at 42%, Chatman a stunning 34%, Walton even worse at 33%… it's night and day from last year when Michigan got a ton of good looks and converted them.
Why that might be. Walton's inability to step forward and become a high-usage, high-efficiency guy is killing the offense. I don't think anyone really expected Irvin to drive a lot of shot-generating, so the burden from the departed Stauskas was bound to fall on LeVert and Walton. LeVert stepped up insofar as he could—big usage, big assist rate, poor efficiency inside the arc. Walton's TO rate is almost as high as his assist rate and he's not effective as a shooter.
I believe that turf toe is a major problem, but we'd better hope so because any renaissance starts with Walton being an all-conference level player.
Chatman versus Dawkins. If you had no idea who was the touted recruit you would pick Dawkins 100 times out of 100. He can leap out of the building, he's decently efficient shooting, and he does not do the very strange things Chatman does multiple times per game. And yet Dawkins was picking between Michigan and Dayton while Chatman was a top 50 recruit everywhere. Very strange.
We're going to explore the boundaries of what Dawkins can do now over the rest of th season, as he's showing some promise. He even had a take to the basket last game out.
This is how you know it's not your year. Spike's TO rate is over 20, and the second highest on the team. Last year he went through a big chunk of the Big Ten season with an infinite A:TO ratio.